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New Study Finds State Tort Reform Legislation Did Not Bring Intended Benefits

A challenge when discussing new legislative ideas is dealing with the uncertainty that often exists about the effect of the changes. However, after that legislation is enacted and changes occur, there will eventually ways to measure the effect of that bill and compare it to the goals of those who championed the measure. For example, many a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer has mentioned this very point when arguing against state and federal legislation that is seeking to take away rights of victims. As research continues to show, the intended goals of so-called medical malpractice reform are rarely found to been achieved once the legislation becomes law.

A new study out of Texas released this week has again found that the state law that limits damages in medical malpractice cases has not delivered on the promises that its proponents claimed. The Star-Telegram reported on the newly released data this week. Specifically, the new research has found that healthcare costs and medical malpractice insurances premiums continued to rise in the state after the passage of the tort reform effort. In fact, those premium rates and healthcare costs rose at a greater speed than the national average ever after these changes. The data also revealed that the changes also did not result in a significant increase in the total number of doctors in the state.

Patient advocacy groups explained that the new data is even more evidence that there is simply no logical reason to take away the rights of medical victims. It essentially amounts to an unwarranted transfer of power away from everyday community members and into the hands of deep pocketed special interest groups-like insurance companies-without any public benefit. The data did find that payouts by medical malpractice liability insurers dropped sharply over the period of time. In 2003 $247 million were paid on claims, and that number dropped to $87 million in 2010. Without a comparable decrease in premiums, the vast majority of that difference between those lowered payouts is therefore going to the insurers themselves. As our Illinois medical malpractice attorneys have repeatedly argued over the years, this amounts to a simple money-grab on the part of insurers who have the most to gain, by far, from taking about the legal rights of victims of the ones that they insure.

An often overlooked downside to all of this is that once these reforms are enacted, medical providers are much less liable to their patients as before. The fact remains that medical professionals are in a position to cause immense harm to their patients if they fail to act appropriately. Lives are lost, disabilities are incurred, and families suffer tremendous at the hands of medical mistakes. However, by taking away the right of an impartial jury to decide disagreements about the quality of care, those victims essentially have no recourse to demand accountability. Medical providers, conversely, have much less incentive to enact changes to improve safety, because those who they harm cannot force any changes via use of the legal system.

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